Post-Vietnam Syndrome: Psychiatry, Anti-War Politics, and the Reconstitution of the Vietnam Veteran

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Lenny Grant


Using primary source materials from medical, government, and journalism archives, this study of public medical discourse reveals the role of argumentation in posi­tively shaping public perceptions of traumatized soldiers and locates the contem­porary origins of the trope of “soldier as psychological victim of war”—a perception that continues to inform public policy and medical research. Using Jasinski’s (1998) concepts of interior and exterior constitutive potential to analyze the public writ­ings, interviews, and Congressional testimony of VVAW-affiliated psychiatrists, the study finds that the radical psychiatrists’ interior (directed at veterans) and exte­rior (directed at public and medical institutions) rhetorics were (and arguably remain) mutually effective in creating an identity for veterans to occupy that exculpated them from their involvement in war, while allowing them to garner benefits for their ser­vice. The article concludes with two examples of the “veteran as psychological vic­tim of war” trope as it shapes the contemporary rhetorical ecology of former servicemembers.

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Author Biography

Lenny Grant, Syracuse University

Lenny Grant is Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric in Syracuse University's Department of Writing Studies, Rhetoric, and Composition.